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Bill Steigerwald Bill Steigerwald, 3/9/2008 [Archive]

Elizabeth Kolbert's Alarming Global Warming Sermon -- Opinion

Elizabeth Kolbert of The New Yorker did not appreciate being ambushed by the local press.

But the superstar journalist, though wary, was a good sport when she was gently questioned by a fellow journalist recently in the nearly empty lobby of the Carnegie Music Hall in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh.

"Turnabout is fair play, I guess," she said to her interrogator, smiling but looking uncomfortable as she defended her well-known role as a global warming alarmist by saying humbly -- and disingenuously -- that she's not a scientist but merely a reporter who relies "on the consensus of the scientific community."

Kolbert had parachuted deep into Flyover Country to deliver a lecture/slide-show about global climate change to 960 Pittsburghers at the prestigious Drue Heinz Lectures series.

Her presentation was based on "The Climate of Man," the three-part, one-sided, epic magazine series she wrote for The New Yorker in the spring of 2005. Finely written and thoroughly reported, the series became the 2006 book "Field Notes From a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change."

The series, which won Kolbert lots of praise and awards from the environmentalist industry and its captive journalists, was really a protracted testimonial on behalf of the Al Gore Brand version of anthropogenic global warming.

Kolbert's Pittsburgh lecture stuck to the familiar alarmist story line. Though she promised her audience she'd present an unbiased account, Kolbert had no time for scientific uncertainty or debate. She used the usual photos of shrinking polar sea ice, upwardly angled temperature and CO2 charts and computer models to paint a grim scenario of unavoidable climate troubles ahead.

Shortly after Kolbert confessed to feeling guilty about the big carbon footprint she left in the sky by taking a plane to Pittsburgh, she did something surprising: She fessed up to reality and acknowledged that global warming was a humanly unsolvable problem.

She wished she had a 10-point plan to "get ourselves out of this mess," she said, but there are no easy answers.

"Just to stabilize the greenhouse gas composition in the atmosphere," she said, "we have to cut our current emissions by 60, 70, 80 percent."

"That's huge. It's going to take pretty much everything we've got, and then some," she said, ticking off such necessary remedies as conservation, land-use planning, a tax on carbon -- or "perhaps just making due with less -- living differently."

Kolbert concluded her lecture by dropping any remaining pretense of being a fair-and-balanced journalist. Speaking as a mother and an inhabitant of Earth, she said it is morally unacceptable to just throw up our hands and not try to do something about global warming.

"It must be confronted in our individual lives, our communities and on Capitol Hill," she said, adding: "It seems to me that every single one of us should be thinking about this, thinking about what we can do, and then doing it. So I'm going to end tonight with a question for you, and that is, 'What exactly are we waiting for?' "

The applause that followed was genuine. Sadly, however, no Pittsburghers seemed to notice they had heard only one side of an incredibly complicated debate. Not one of the 12 questions from the audience expressed any skepticism about any part of the global warming sermon they had just heard.

Bill Steigerwald is a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. E-mail Bill at steigerwald@caglecartoons.com. ©Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, All Rights Reserved.

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